Empress Crowned in Red – Ciannon Smart

Saying this right at the start: this is book 2 of 2. So if you haven’t read book 1 then you should (and I reviewed that here). If you decide to read on, you will encounter spoilers from the first book.

Right here is good if you need a memory refresh though, because I’m going to recap some of the things I’m thinking are probably important for this book, before I start reading.

Alright. So we left off with a lot of confusion, and a lot of different threads, some of which had been pulled together.

The doyenne is dead, long live the new doyenne: Jazmyne. Throughout the first book, she grew from totally unready to lead, to finding her power, to getting a liiiiittle bit drunk on it. Subplot ready to turn into plotplot: the pirates! She wants to be doyenne and pirate queen because otherwise the pirates will be coming, as soon as they elect one. So that’s that. She’s thrown in with them and they with her.

Ira – aka Iraya Adair, last scion of the Adair family Jazmyne’s mother (and her Unlit buddies) killed. She had sworn herself to the Warrior cast and the super secret order of super secrecy. She doesn’t want to be doyenne, she never did, but she did want to kill the doyenne who killed her parents. Here enters a whole winding tale between Ira and the Obeah and Kidan and Jazmyne as she tries to reconcile the weight of expectations placed on her the second anyone figures out who she is, with her desire to get revenge and head off again to find her super secret sect. She’s softened a little, realising that had she worked with people before things would have gone better, and certain awful things wouldn’t have happened. It’s humbled her a little, but her arrogance won’t stay away for long, I’m sure. Her biggest magical issue has been the glyphs stopping her “naevus” – the ancestral magic. Getting rid of or working around them has to be a priority, and so far she’s been good at neither. Plus, whenever she pushes, destructive blinding light (hello naevus) erupts from her. This has the side effect of immediately telling everyone in the vicinity the the Lost Empress is right there.

Kirdan. Well now, he’s an interesting one. Posed as a cousin if the doyenne who rules the Zesians–a people who really really want to take the Aiycan island for themselves because it’s the only place where the golden conduit coins live, and magi need to use coins as conduits for their magic (except for Ira, because she is one of the Super Special Descendants with a special core of power aside from the usual). Turns out, he’s the prince and firstborn. Unfortunately for him, firstborn boys are not looked upon fondly by a matriarchal society in which the passing on of magic is done by death or sharing. A firstborn boy is seen as taking magic that isn’t rightly his. So they put them into the army of bastards and train them up real good to fight.

Kirdan, who had allied with Delsyn and Sham, two Obeah who Ira tried super hard to push away, wants to help Iraya but she made it lots harder for them, which was actually pretty funny. But he wants Iraya, if she won’t lead, to at least revoke the law that doesn’t allow a doyen, before appointing him to that post either over all, or in Zesia.

And Ira needs to decide on things soon, because the Jade Guild, assumed by all to be disgruntled Obeah, are, in fact, Unlit who are tearing holes in the Veil to let nasty beasties through. They plan to isolate all three islands (which is pretty much done), capture Aiyca for the conduit gold, then go after everything else. And having successfully propaganda’d themselves into looking like the plucky rebels, their actual Obeah ranks are swelling.

Last bit of recap: jéges. These are four mythical-but-real items, two of which can only be activated by an Adair. A locket which amplifies magic (Adair only); a tome of deep and powerful patwah spells: a mirror in two halves; one of which we have seen used and reflects back any spell that hits it, magnified x10 (Adair only); and the aforementioned Conduit Falls.

Currently, the tome and one half of the mirror are with Ira and the others. The Falls are not moveable, but nobody knows where they are without a doyenne’s secret knowledge of the thing. And the others are presumably with Jazmyne.

I hope Iraya finds a way to break the traditions, to be a new type of Empress who can stand for herself, as a Warrior, as well as a ruler. Her people have this weird, compulsive, imposed fragility thing that they push upon their Empresses, and that’s a big part of the problem for her–being a fighter and all.

Alrighty then, onto the book!

I am getting more and more needy about wanting to know details about this world. Everything around the story is so rich with life and history–and secrecy–this book just adds to it. I desperately don’t want to be forced to leave this world behind.

Some of the writing strikes me anew. As we see Roje the pirate more, Smart uses nautical words to describe his voice, his tone, his mood. It’s a neat touch, that just speaks again to the detail with which Smart has written.

The plotlines from book 1 were numerous, so the introduction of a bunch more was worrying at first. There was an awful lot happening, and it was all going kind of slowly. But suddenly you realise everything actually led somewhere and it’s time for the Big Finish!

I loved these books and the world they’re set in. Grab them both if you can.

Queer character info: Anya from the last book, some hints of others – definitely there. Vea has died offscreen.

Empress Crowned in Red was released on 7th June 2022. Order your copy from Amazon US or UK, or from your favourite bookseller or library.

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